RMA Celebrates 20 Years of US Scrap Tyre Efforts
Two decades ago, the United States was home to more than one billion stockpiled scrap tyres, and only 11 per cent of the annually generated scrap tyres were sent to an end use market. It was, reminisces the Rubber Manufacturers Association, a situation where the tyre manufacturing industry was contending with a nascent scrap tyre industry – and the US Congress wanted results.
Twenty years later, this stockpile has shrunk to 100 million tyres, and further markets exist for nearly 85 per cent of all scrap tyres generated in the US each year. The RMA credits this improvement in no small part to its creation in 1990 of the Scrap Tire Management Council (STMC), an organisation focused on developing end use markets for scrap tyres and assisting in the abatement of stockpiled tyres. Although the functions of the STMC were later absorbed by the parent organisation, the RMA says that the STMC mission commitment and effort has not changed.
“RMA and its tyre manufacturer members recognised a serious environmental issue and invested significant resources, time and effort to make positive changes,” said RMA president and CEO Charles Cannon. “At a time when many things could have gone terribly wrong for the industry, tyre manufacturers stepped up and did the right thing at the right time. Having achieved major success over the past two decades, RMA and our members have not relented and continue to work with a broad spectrum of scrap tyre industry stakeholders and regulators to ensure that these successes are not reversed.”
Since 1990, the RMA’s scrap tyre efforts have been spearheaded by Michael Blumenthal, who began as the Scrap Tire Management Council’s executive director and now serves as an RMA vice president. As the RMA explains, Blumenthal identified a key shortcoming of the scrap tyre industry: a lack of information. “One of the first efforts we undertook was to collect, develop and distribute timely and pertinent information to the scrap tyre industry,” Blumenthal said. “Between 1990 and 1996 reports and documents on virtually every facet of the industry were published. Information collection and distribution remains a critical practice to this day.”
Another challenge, the RMA notes, was market development. In 1990, only one viable market for scrap tyres existed: tyre-derived fuel (TDF). The scrap tyre industry was trying to develop other markets, but the technology and market opportunities did not materialise until 1994. In the early 1990’s Congress was actively considering scrap tyre legislation, and enacted a mandate to use ground rubber in federally-funded asphalt pavement projects. The result of that mandate, the RMA opines, was a disaster, one that “taught a powerful lesson to the emerging scrap tyre industry.”
“The scrap tyre industry was under pressure to develop non-TDF markets at a time when the industry was not prepared for such an effort,” Blumenthal elaborated. “One of the very expensive lessons that had to be learned by government agencies was that the scrap tyre industry has always been a demand-pull industry. Subsidising the supply of processed scrap tyres when the demand for it doesn’t exist causes over-supply, falling prices and failing businesses. The Congressional mandate for road construction caused more problems than it solved.
“Today the scrap tyre industry new challenges from a wide array of sources. As scrap tyre-derived products move into new markets, new questions and issues have arisen,” Blumenthal continued. “The recession has hit states hard financially and many have been diverting scrap tyre funds to finance other state programmes. We continue to fight these diversions so that progress to date is not reversed. Additionally, we are currently fighting a US Environmental Protection Agency proposed regulation that would effectively ruin the tyre derived fuel market, which still accounts for 50 per cent of the market for scrap tires. This could lead to more stockpiles and greater risk of environmentally dangerous tyre pile fires.”
In conclusion, Blumenthal said this of the RMA: “Our determination and resolve remain steadfast, as does our commitment to the industry and the environment. As the quote goes, it ain’t over till its over. I believe that’s a very good way to describe our approach to scrap tyres management.”